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The inevitability of Alabama football

Just try to ignore the elephant, somehow.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports/illustration by Red Cup Rebellion

Ole Miss football is nothing if not fun to us right now. Despite lingering NCAA sanctions, despite the obnoxiously manufactured controversy around athletes transferring out of the program, despite the embarrassment caused by a disgraced former head coach, Ole Miss is still exciting and interesting. In fact, Ole Miss may be more exciting right now than it has been over the past few years, precisely because of the aforementioned setbacks. Ole Miss is a program that plays a very weird, defense-optional brand of football that is bolstered by one of the more talented offenses in the Southeastern Conference. And, with no NCAA postseason to play for, the team and its fans aren’t burdened by the feeling of having to “play for” something, other than individual wins and losses on the schedule.

This Saturday night, Ole Miss plays No. 1 Alabama. Alabama is, again, the easy pick to win a national title. The Crimson Tide is far more talented and capable than Ole Miss is, but Ole Miss may just be unpredictable enough, with so little to lose, that we could be convinced to entertain the idea that the Rebels could put a scare into Alabama and, even if not emerging victorious, make Saturday’s game interesting.

This is us telling ourselves that this won’t end the way we know it will end. This is us laughing in death’s face.

We are the two friends coping with one’s impending demise as told by Jason Isbell in “Elephant”:

We just drink our drinks and laugh out loud

And bitch about the weekend crowd

And try to ignore the elephant somehow

The annual meeting between the Rebels and the Crimson Tide has gained additional national attention due to the former’s successes against the latter in 2014 and ‘15 (and almost ‘16!). There is some intrigue here, if the college football punditry is to be believed. Ole Miss, says Sports Illustrated, is one of the “agents of chaos” in college football, and could cause a championship contender, such as Alabama, to slip up. ESPN asks if the high-flying Ole Miss offense can “soar against the Crimson Tide.” Alabama, for their part, is still dealing with special teams woes, and spent the entire summer embroiled in a real-deal quarterback controversy. Nick Saban was bothered enough by this to be short (pun intended) with an ESPN sideline correspondent (for which, to his credit, he’s since apologized).

As the thinking would go, Alabama may be somewhat vulnerable, and Ole Miss may just be unpredictable and capable enough to expose the Tide’s vulnerabilities. It’s an interesting idea to entertain.

But we all know what’s actually going to happen. We know how this ends.

In an iteration of the sport that is celebrated for it’s perceived inconsistency and unpredictability, college football has become remarkably consistent with the presence of Saban’s Alabama teams. For the better part of a decade, this program has, more often than not, courted the top recruiting class, posted double-digit season win totals, won the SEC championship, and won whatever iteration of the national championship determining process was placed before them. That last part they’ve even managed to do twice without winning the conference. And they do it with the most predictable, plodding, efficient style of football imaginable.

Take, for example, their season opener against Louisville, in which they scored a ho-hum 51 points, doing so by scoring 14, 14, 17, and 7 points in each quarter, respectively. Louisville never led, and never even so much as hinted at staging any sort of comeback. Alabama somehow quietly led by 34 before Louisville got their first score. The Tide effectively and methodically scored, and kept their opponent from scoring. We all saw it coming, we all knew how it was going to end, and Alabama simply proved our intuition right.

Saban’s Alabama is the Persian army staring down the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae. We celebrate the Spartans for their guts and their spirit, their willingness to stare death in the face and not back down, but in doing so we often forget that the Spartans died—every last damn one of them. They were never going to defeat Xerxes, and they knew this.

Saturday’s game is going to play out exactly as you likely think it will, just as the rest of the college football season will. Alabama will beat Ole Miss, will most likely win the Southeastern Conference, and will most likely win the College Football Playoff after dispatching a Clemson an Oklahoma or an Ohio State. There’s a not-insignificant chance that all three of these premonitions are not realized, but they are pretty reliable premonitions with good reason.

This is what Saban and Alabama have done to college football. They’ve given the sport an inescapable, fatal quality. Via Spencer Hall:

[Saban’s] transformation of Alabama into a ratings-killing certainty so oppressive it might have blacked out the sun for an entire generation of rickets-stricken coaches and players is complete. There is no adjustment against him. He will outwork you or hire people to outwork you and the people you hire. No one is more committed to building Football Walmart and bankrupting your mom-and-pop programs. No one.

Give up on this idea of doing his thing better... Life is about being brave in the face of inevitable doom.

Bravery in the face of inevitable doom is what we’re doing around here. We’re discussing Ole Miss’ recent successes against Alabama, the Rebels’ high-octane offense, and appropriately asking what “success” is for this weekend. We are entertaining the idea that we can help college football escape the anaconda’s grip that Alabama has on the sport. Our intuition tells us it’s over, but our guts and our will to survive this tell us something different altogether. That’s why we keep fighting and hoping for a better outcome, and convincing ourselves that the unavoidable is avoidable.

But, at some point, the anaconda’s victim gives in. It accepts the inevitable.

I’ve buried her a thousand times, given up my place in line

But I don’t give a damn about that now

There’s one thing that’s real clear to me: No one dies with dignity

We just try to ignore the elephant somehow

We just try to ignore the elephant somehow

We just try to ignore the elephant somehow